• Dijon Kizzee Killing by Sheriff’s Deputies Is a Reminder That Biking While Black Is a Real Hazard in Racist America

    One of Dijon Kizzee's uncles grieves at a makeshift memorial where Kizzee, a 29-year-old Black man, was killed by Los Angeles sheriff's deputies in South Los Angeles.David McNew/Getty Images

    Dijon Kizzee, a 29-year-old Black man, was riding his bicycle through South Los Angeles on Monday afternoon when he noticed two sheriff’s deputies trying to stop him. He got off the bike and started running.

    The deputies say they wanted to stop Kizzee because he was riding in violation of vehicle codes. They chased him down the street. A scuffle ensued, and Kizzee dropped a jacket on the ground; wrapped inside it was a gun. When the deputies spotted the firearm, they shot him multiple times, killing him.

    The sheriff’s department hasn’t specified which vehicle codes Kizzee allegedly broke, and a spokesperson claims he reached toward his gun before the deputies shot him, something that can’t clearly be confirmed by the available video footage. The killing, which came about a week after an officer shot Jacob Blake several times in the back in Wisconsin, has spurred renewed protests in Los Angeles amid a nationwide movement to stop police violence against Black people.

    Kizzee’s tragic death is also a reminder that across the country, police officers who are already disproportionately stopping Black people for driving their cars or walking down the street or simply going about their lives are also disproportionately stopping them for riding their bikes.

    Kizzee is not the first Black man to die as a result of one of these stops. In August 2014, the same month a Ferguson cop shot Michael Brown, who had been walking down the street, a sheriff’s deputy stopped Dante Parker, 36, while he was riding his bike in Victorville, California. The deputy said Parker matched the description of a burglar, and after struggling to detain him, officers used a Taser about 25 times, killing him. The district attorney’s office declined to press charges against the deputies, saying Parker died because he was also on drugs after an autopsy report showed he had PCP in his system.

    There’s no nationwide data on the dangers of biking while Black, but studies in individual cities reveal an alarming trend. In Oakland, California, Black people accounted for nearly 60 percent of cycling stops by police from 2016 to 2018, making them over three times likelier than white cyclists to be pulled over, per public records obtained by Bicycling magazine. The situation isn’t much better in Chicago, where 56 percent of all bike tickets were issued in majority-Black neighborhoods in 2017, even though US census data shows that bike commuting is more popular in the city’s majority-white neighborhoods, according to the Chicago Tribune. In Washington, DC, Black people accounted for 88 percent of cycling stops from 2010 to 2017, though they make up about 45 percent of the district’s overall population, according to more public records obtained by Bicycling. And Black people in DC were far more likely to be stopped for the vague reason of appearing “suspicious.”

    Florida offers more disheartening statistics. A 2015 investigation by the Tampa Bay Times found that Black people accounted for 8 out of 10 cyclists who were ticketed in the city for problems like riding with someone on the handlebars. After Fort Lauderdale began requiring residents to register their bicycles with the city, the Broward Palm Beach New Times found that Black cyclists received 86 percent of cycling citations from 2010 to 2013, even though Black residents were significantly more likely than white residents to register their bikes.

    It’s hard to get a broader look at the problem because many cities don’t share data on the race of cyclists stopped by police. Bicycling requested public records from 100 of the most populous cities, and only three complied. Los Angeles, where Kizzee was killed, has been a holdout. According to the Associated Press, the sheriff’s department has not provided these statistics, and the police department does not break down its data about vehicle stops by category.

    County Superviser Mark Ridley-Thomas told the news wire that since Kizzee’s death, he’s heard stories of other Black people who were allegedly harassed by police while biking. “Right now, I’m sad, and I’m mad at the same time,” Kizzee’s aunt Fletcher Fair told the Los Angeles Times. “We are tired. We are absolutely tired.” It was the second fatal shooting by sheriff’s deputies within a block during just a few months.

  • GOP Congressman to Black Protesters: “I’d Drop Any 10 of You Where You Stand”

    Tom Williams/AP

    On Tuesday, Rep. Clay Higgins (R-La.) posted a picture of armed Black demonstrators on Facebook and captioned it with a threat: “I’d drop any 10 of you where you stand.” Facebook quickly removed the post for inciting violence, but the point was clear. Louisiana is an open carry state and Higgins is a big proponent of gun rights. Yet he thinks Black people exercising their Second Amendment right in a peaceful protest is a threat to be eliminated. As he assured anyone who was paying attention: “We don’t want to see your worthless ass nor do we want to make your mothers cry.”

    Higgins certainly has an appreciation for law enforcement. He’s a former police officer, who, according to his Congressional profile, “worked patrol, primarily night shift, and he was a well-known SWAT operator. Prior to joining Congress in 2017, Higgins is best known for his Crimestopper videos for the St. Landry Parish Sheriff’s Office.”

    The third district that he has represented for the last three years has been pounded by several crises. Late last month, after Lafayette, Louisiana, police shot and killed 31-year-old Black man Trayford Pellerin, residents took to the streets in protest. Last week, Hurricane Laura tore through southwest Louisiana killing 14 people, leaving 350,000 without power and more than 150,000 without water, only adding to the economic crisis caused by the pandemic that is being felt acutely in one of the nation’s poorest regions. Many of those who were affected by the hurricane include residents of Higgins’ overwhelmingly white district; according to the 2010 census, 760,000 people lived in the third district, and their median household income was $41,000. 

    Instead of worrying about the widespread devastation, the pandemic, and the real needs of his constituents, who include Lake Charles residents who suffer from high rates of poverty, Higgins was focused on Louisville, Kentucky. Black armed demonstrators there were marching for Breonna Taylor, the EMT who was shot and killed in March by Louisville Police while she slept in her bed. “Nothing personal. We just eliminate the threat,” Higgins’ post read according to the Advocate. “We don’t care what color you are. We don’t care if you’re left or right. if you show up like this, if We [sic] recognize threat…you won’t walk away.” It was a brazen display of a double standard. After Facebook removed the post, Higgins posted a follow-up message.

    No, I did not remove my post.
    America is being manipulated into a new era of government control. Your liberty is…

    Posted by Captain Clay Higgins on Tuesday, September 1, 2020

    “I suggest you get your mind right,” he continued. “I’ll advise when it’s time gear up, mount up, and roll out.” 

    It’s no secret that many white gun owners only support open carry and gun rights for themselves. But in the past, gun rights advocates wouldn’t broadcast that they considered Black people with guns to be a danger, whereas white people packing heat were just freedom-loving patriots. But, thanks to the relentless incitement by President Donald Trump, armed white people are increasingly seeing themselves as above the law and are unapologetic about bragging about it. 

    Higgins’ post is yet another instance that proves that many conservatives don’t really want law and order, what they want is impunity to inflict violence. As I explained last week:

    The organizing principle seems to be that there are laws and a social order to adhere to, and if you dare violate either by defying a police officer’s orders or some other social rule, you may have to pay with your life. That is, if you’re a person of color. For armed and aggrieved white men and occasionally women, apparently, a different set of rules apply.

    After Kyle Rittenhouse, an 17-year-old white vigilante killed two protesters in Kenosha, Wisconsin, and was subsequently charged with murder, Donald Trump and the conservative apparatus defended him.  Some even hailed him as a hero and a Christian website raised $237,000 for his defense. To them, Rittenhouse was boldly protecting people and property and helping maintain law and order, thus sending very clear signal to millions of aggrieved racists. As I wrote:

    But as this era of pervasive corruption, state-sanctioned violence, and a pandemic that’s killed nearly 180,000 people makes abundantly clear, the harshest punishments for violating “law and order” are only doled out to certain people in certain places. When Trump and other right-wingers say they want “law and order,” they’re really sending a signal—less a dogwhistle than a bullhorn—to the other people guided by white supremacy: Break any law you want to maintain the current order. 

    If a 17-year-old committing a deadly crime can be considered a win for law and order, it only makes sense that a sitting member of Congress can openly threaten to kill Black protesters. Apparently, that’s how heroes are made. 

  • The Worst Moments From Trump’s Toxic Fox News Interview

    President Trump—who spent the weekend unleashing incendiary tweets as deadly violence roiled Portland, Oregon—continued promoting bizarre conspiracy theories Monday night. He launched baseless attacks against his political opponents and suggested that the police officer who shot Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin, may have simply “choked,” like players in a golf tournament.

    The explosive remarks came during an interview with Fox News’ Laura Ingraham that aired just hours after he refused to condemn the 17-year-old charged with killing two protesters in Kenosha last week. The Fox interview is all but certain to fuel more anger and division as the president prepares to travel to Kenosha on Tuesday, despite pleas from the Democratic governor to cancel the visit. Here are some of the worst moments from his sit-down with Ingraham.

    Trump says Biden is being controlled by people in “the dark shadows”

    In one of the strangest moments of the interview, as Trump ranted about people “controlling” Joe Biden, Ingraham asked Trump to identify the individuals that he believed to be “pulling Biden’s strings” in order to transform the famously moderate former vice president into a radical, left-wing extremist. It appeared to be a soft-ball question—Ingraham suggested former Obama administration officials as one possibility—but the president swung and missed.

    “People that you’ve never heard of,” Trump said instead. “People that are in the dark shadows.”

    That proved even too much for Ingraham, who interrupted to say that the remark sounded like a conspiracy theory. But Trump descended further, mysteriously alluding to “thugs” in “black uniforms” that had supposedly attempted to travel from a “certain city” with the intent of inflicting violence at the Republican National Convention. “There were like seven people on this plane like this person, and then a lot of people were on the plane to do big damage,” he said. Trump said the incident was “under investigation” but declined to offer further details, telling Ingraham that he’d tell her more “sometime.” 

    Trump praises his supporters as “tremendous” while accusing Democrats and the media of inciting violence

    “My supporters are wonderful, hard-working, tremendous people,” Trump told Ingraham. “They turn on their television set and they look at a Portland or they look at a Kenosha…They’re looking at all of this, and they can’t believe it.” 

    Ignoring his own record of inflaming tensions and promoting violence, Trump went on to repeatedly blame Democrats and the media for the current unrest. At one point, Fox News showed a montage of Democrats encouraging Americans to stand up to the Trump administration—apparently as evidence that Democrats were guilty of inciting violence. The montage included three Black lawmakers—Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), and Rep. Ayanna Presley (D-Mass.)—along with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

    Later, when Ingraham asked why Gov. Tony Evers and other Democratic officials in Wisconsin didn’t want Trump to visit, Trump pointed, without evidence, to a cover-up. “They don’t want the media to cover what’s really going on in blue-state America,” he said.

    Trump says the police officer who shot Blake may have simply “choked” under pressure

    In a moment that appeared to downplay the actions of the police officer who shot Blake, Trump compared the officer to a “choker” struggling under the pressures of a golf tournament.

    “Shooting the guy in the back many times, I mean, couldn’t you have done something different?” Trump asked rhetorically. “Couldn’t you have wrestled him?” He then paused to suggest that Blake could have been going for a weapon during the encounter—seemingly to provide an excuse for the officer—before repeating his “choker” comparison.

    “You could be a police officer for 15 years and all of sudden you’re confronted,” Trump continued. “You’ve got a quarter of a second to make a decision. If you don’t make the decision and you’re wrong, you’re dead. People choke under those circumstances, and they make a bad decision.”

  • There Are No Black Victims in Donald Trump’s America

    A protester is arrested in Louisville, KentuckyImagespace/Zuma

    After Jacob Blake was shot several times in the back by Kenosha, Wisconsin, police officer Rusten Shesky, and was lying paralyzed from the waist down and handcuffed to a hospital bed, right-wing media, conservatives, and the usual crowd of other assorted racists were searching for a justification for what seemed to the rest of the world as an unprovoked assault. Some said that Blake was reaching for a knife. Others insisted he was resisting arrest. The more creative ones claimed that he had sexually assaulted a minor (something the police officer likely wouldn’t have known). And so, of course, he deserved to be maimed. The basic message was obvious: His very Blackness meant that he couldn’t possibly be considered to be an innocent victim. He always had it coming.

    Blake has joined a perpetually growing list of Black people who’ve been on the wrong side of a gun clutched in the hand of someone unable or unwilling to see our humanity; Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd—their stories are different yet remarkably similar. Arbery, who was shot and killed by armed white men in Georgia for the crime of Running While Black, was falsely accused by right-wing media of robbing a home. Taylor, an emergency room technician who was killed by Louisville Police while sleeping in her own bed, has been described as being involved in the drug trade, despite no evidence and her family’s insistence that this is simply not true. And Floyd, the catalyst for the ongoing protests and the uprising sweeping the country, has been described as having resisted arrest and having fentanyl in his system.

    But even if all of these false allegations were true, they still would not justify the killings. Police and white people with guns are not the judge, jury, and the executioner, even though recently they have done a good job of adopting all those roles. The rush to search for an excuse, any excuse, for these deaths rests in one underlying assumption: There is no such thing as a Black victim.

    Unfortunately, this also seems to extend to Democrats, liberals, and other anti-racists who are constantly on the defense, desperately trying to prove that these deaths are unjust. As soon as the victim is accused of resisting arrest or smoking weed in college, well-intentioned people flood my social media feeds with videos and images of Black people doing absolutely nothing and still being targeted or killed by police as counter-narrative to a false narrative they seem to have accepted. They are searching for the perfect victim, the clear cut case that will finally convince the right and other assorted racists that we aren’t to blame for our deaths.

    There’s a problem though. All that these good intentions achieve is to reinforce the idea that some Black people do deserve to be killed by police. And if they’re convinced that Black people are incapable of being victimized, what purpose does the search for the perfect victim serve—other than diverting our attention to the real victim and traumatizing the rest of us with endless loops of death? 

    In the Trump era, the denial of victimhood has been expanded to include anyone who fights to curb police violence. Despite the administration’s claim that they support peaceful protesters, all demonstrators continue to be depicted as anarchists, terrorists, thugs, and looters. When Kyle Rittenhouse, a white armed 17-year-old from Illinois, shot three protesters in Kenosha, Wisconsin, killing two, the president couldn’t even bring himself to denounce Rittenhouse or offer words of sympathy for those who were slain (who happened to be white). He did, however, offer words of regret for Aaron “Jay” Danielson, the far-right protester who was shot dead in Portland on Saturday.

    The backdrop for all the violence unfolding in the country is the coronavirus. The highly contagious disease has sickened more than 6 million people making the United States the country with the worst outbreak in the world. The impact of the disease hasn’t been equitable. Black and Brown communities have suffered disproportionately from the infection and deaths, partly because those who live in these communities are more likely to suffer from underlying health conditions.

    For months, conservatives and Republicans have been pushing the lie that only those with underlying health conditions can die from the virus, as if that explains the mortality rate instead of the utterly inept response of the administration to the crisis. Over the weekend, as the coronavirus death toll climbed past 180,000, Trump retweeted a false claim that only 9,000 people had died from the virus in the US, because researchers estimated that these were the only people who didn’t have any other underlying conditions. Those tens of thousands of other people with diabetes or high blood pressure or even high cholesterol were going to die anyway. In other words, like victims of police shootings, they basically had it coming. 

    Essentially blaming tens of thousands of COVID-19 victims for their own deaths helps Trump do the only thing he’s good at doing: not taking responsibility. If the death toll is dramatically lower,  Trump doesn’t have to shoulder any blame for his disastrous handling of the pandemic. If Blake deserved to be shot seven times, and the vague possibility of fentanyl made it only reasonable for Floyd to have had his airways restricted until he died, then police violence against Black people isn’t endemic in this country. The wave of violence at protests over the last few weeks becomes Joe Biden’s fault. After all, if victims of police brutality and 183,000 from the coronavirus deserved to die, then Trump can blithely exempt himself of any responsibility at all. He can just sit back and watch it burn. 

  • After Protesters Clash in Portland, Trump Takes to Twitter to Fan Violent Flames and Spread Misleading Claims

    Supporters of President Donald Trump attend a rally and car parade from Clackamas to Portland, Oregon, on August 29.Paula Bronstein/AP

    On Sunday morning, as President Donald Trump made his way to his golf course in Sterling, Virginia, he passed a Grim Reaper waving the sign that read “183K”—a reference to the mounting death toll from the coronavirus pandemic.

    Hours earlier, instead of focusing on his government’s pandemic response or condemning the killing of a man shot in Portland, Oregon, Trump took to Twitter to champion his supporters and condemn Black Lives Matter protesters as the two groups clashed in the Oregon city on Saturday night.

    First, at 4 a.m., he took to Twitter to label Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler a “FOOL” and called on the National Guard to intervene in Portland’s demonstrations. The video featured Trump supporters shooting paintballs at peaceful protesters.

    Then, he cried out to the “GREAT PATRIOTS,” a caravan of Trump supporters headed to demonstrations in Portland:

    At 6:49 a.m., Trump then retweeted a misleading claim that simply reinforced his warped view that all of the so-called “unsafe” cities are led by Democrats.

    The truth, of course, is more complicated. “Murders are also up in Jacksonville and Miami, both of which are overseen by Republican mayors and a Republican governor. And this is all happening under Trump’s presidency,” Vox‘s German Lopez wrote. “The trend doesn’t appear to be partisan.” 

    A few minutes later, Trump responded to a tweet by National Review editor Rich by calling on DC Mayor Muriel Bowser to “arrest these agitators” or else the “Federal Government will do it for you.” The video Lowry shared features Black Lives Matter protesters in the nation’s capital blocking traffic while protesting in the streets. 

    On Saturday night, the White House announced that Trump would visit Kenosha, Wisconsin, as demonstrations unfolded in the streets. But on CNN’s State of the Union on Sunday, Rep. Karen Bass of California saw through the purpose of the visit as a means to “to agitate things and make things worse.”

    In yet another sign of how Trump is fixated on gaining support, no matter how stained the source, he “liked” a tweet commending 17-year-old Trump supporter Kyle Rittenhouse, who was charged with killing two men and injuring another during protests in Kenosha, Wisconsin, over the police shooting of Jacob Blake. Trump dodged a question about Rittenhouse on Saturday, telling a reporter: “We’re looking at it very, very carefully.”

    And it wouldn’t be a typical Sunday morning in the Trump White House without the president shouting his typical racist dog whistle, one that has become foundational to his 2020 campaign:

    The president’s tweets represent a means to an end. His retweets of his supporters shooting paintballs at protesters in Portland serves to instigate the violence-riddled vision of American cities he thinks is true. He leverages his platform to decry anti-racist protesters, frustrated at the near-monthly injustices they are seeing as “agitators” to reinforce the misleading notion that American cities, specifically Democrat-led ones, are unruly and in shambles. It’s a Nixonian message from a time long past that’s meant to sow discontent, to create a chaotic view of American life months before his reelection and depict an unstable society that he believes he alone can fix. Nothing could be further from the truth.

  • Don’t Forget the Other Radical Activists in Professional Basketball: WNBA Players

    The Washington Mystics wear T-shirts with seven red circles on the back to protest the shooting of Jacob Blake by police. Courtesy Espn2/ZUMA Wire/Cal Sport Media via AP Images

    NBA players return to the court today after ending a strike that started earlier this week over the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin. The league and players, reportedly with some encouragement from Barack Obama and Michael Jordan, agreed to resume games and establish a social justice coalition that will, among other things, focus on improving voter turnout and pushing for criminal justice reform.

    The strike was a powerful act of protest that inspired other athletes elsewhere in sports—from the WNBA to professional baseball to soccer and tennis and college football—to do likewise. Colin Kaepernick, who famously knelt before San Francisco 49ers games four years ago to protest police brutality, wrote to LeBron James thanking him for his solidarity.

    But let’s not forget that there already was a social justice coalition in professional basketball. And that plenty of pro basketball players had already risked their paychecks by taking a stand on matters of social justice. I’m talking about WNBA players, who have long been among the most effective and persistent activists in sports, though they are little recognized for it.

    Nearly two months before the NBA announced its social justice coalition, the WNBA in early July launched its own version. Players decided to dedicate their season to Breonna Taylor, the 26-year-old EMT who was killed when police barged into her Louisville, Kentucky, home in a March raid. The WNBA players announced that their Social Justice Council, with support from advisers including Black Lives Matter co-founder Alicia Garza, would raise awareness about issues of race, voting rights, LGBTQ advocacy, and gun control to “address the country’s long history of inequality, implicit bias and systemic racism that has targeted black and brown communities.”

    After Kenosha police shot Blake seven times in the back last weekend, the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks said they were striking on Wednesday, and other teams in the league soon joined. That night, the WNBA’s Washington Mystics walked onto the court wearing shirts that together spelled out Blake’s name, with seven red circles in the back of each shirt, drawn to look like bullet holes. The players pushed their league to postpone its scheduled games as well. “This isn’t just about basketball. We aren’t just basketball players,” Washington Mystics guard Ariel Atkins told ESPN. “We’re going to say what we need to say.”

    In Slate, Maitreyi Anantharaman documents the WNBA’s long history of activism—on everything from gun violence to abortion rights to police brutality. Players have made great sacrifices to show up for causes that are important to them. Minnesota Lynx star Maya Moore, an Olympian in the prime of her career, left the league last year to to push for the release from prison of a wrongly convicted man named Jonathan Irons; he was free in July. And earlier this month, after Kelly Loeffler, a Republican senator and WNBA team co-owner, criticized players for their activism, some wore pregame shirts endorsing her political opponent. WNBA players raise their voices even when the stakes of doing so are high, and they’ve scored results. As Anantharaman writes for Slate:

    A thorny truth: In the stark terms of dollars and cents, the women here wielded far less power than did the men. “When we talk about playing and not playing, the implications that has on a female basketball player [relative to] a male basketball player are dire,” Nneka Ogwumike, an All-Star forward for the Los Angeles Sparks and president of the WNBA’s players union, told ESPN when asked about the risks of the players’ decision.

    Ogwumike is right to some degree. The WNBA’s financial circumstances—it is said to be heavily subsidized by the NBA—have always transmitted a kind of unspoken threat to the league’s players. Why rock the only boat that stands between you and drowning? But WNBA players do have quite a bit of leverage, if not the kind that shows up on a balance sheet. Their activism has earned their league and its parent company enormous goodwill. For years, they have dutifully played their parts as crown jewels of the NBA’s claim to progressivism. At any moment, they can call the NBA’s bluff in public spectacle. When they, say, agitate a member of the ownership class, the women of the WNBA can force a league to decide whether it will really live up to the marketing copy.

    By all means applaud the NBA players for joining the fight, but be sure to remember the women who were there, too, rolling up their sleeves and showing everyone how to get shit done, despite making less money and getting less attention for their troubles. 

  • Here’s How Kenosha Cops Will Try to Get Away With Nearly Murdering Jacob Blake

    People in New York City protest the shooting of Jacob Blake by a Kenosha, Wisconsin, police officer.John Lamparski/SIPA USA via AP Images

    Somewhat predictably, the Kenosha police union has come to the defense of the officer who shot Jacob Blake seven times in the back last weekend in front of his young children. The union presents its version of events as exculpatory, but by any standards beyond those of a police-supremacist status quo it would be a damning confession of attempted murder. 

    In a statement released on Friday, the Kenosha Professional Police Association argued that officers drew their guns because Blake was allegedly armed with a knife, had “actively resisted the officers’ attempt to gain compliance,” and remained unaffected by their Tasers. “As the uncontested facts above demonstrate, the officers involved gave Mr. Blake numerous opportunities to comply,” Brendan Matthews, an attorney for the union, wrote in the statement, seemingly attempting to blame Blake for the outcome. “He chose not to.” 

    These claims are not actually uncontested. Attorneys for Blake say he did nothing to provoke the police, and Raysean White, a witness who filmed the encounter with a cellphone, said he heard officers yelling about a knife but did not see one in Blake’s hands. The Wisconsin Justice Department, which is investigating the shooting, has neither confirmed nor denied the police union’s version of events. And video footage isn’t conclusive: The officers weren’t wearing body cameras, and White’s cellphone footage shows only about 11 seconds before the shooting begins. In that footage, Rusten Sheskey and another officer, who both appear to be white, can be seen following behind Blake, who is Black. Their guns are drawn as Blake walks toward a parked SUV. Sheskey grabs Blake’s shirt from behind and shoots him repeatedly in the back as Blake leans into the driver’s side door, his three children in the backseat. (A second video from another witness shows Blake on the ground scuffling with police prior to the shooting, but it’s blurry and hard to make anything out.) State investigators say they found a knife on the floor of the car.

    Even if Blake had resisted officers and did have a knife in his possession somewhere, that shouldn’t be a justification for offloading seven rounds into his back as he was walking away from them toward his kids. The fact that police officers in Kenosha think this is a colorable excuse is a reminder of how twisted our system of accountability and justice is. Police officers around the country have made similar excuses after other instances of police brutality, and they tend to work. Around the country, with the help of judges and prosecutors, officers have regularly gotten away with shooting people who were unarmed—some were sleeping in a car or sleeping at home on a couch—because laws in most states allow cops to use deadly force if they can come up with a reason for why they thought a person in their vicinity might harm them, even if they were wrong and the person posed no real threat.

    Blake is now recovering in a Milwaukee hospital, paralyzed from the waist down. Attorneys for his family say he had been trying to break up a domestic disturbance between two women when the police arrived, and that the officers were the aggressors. The shooting prompted protests across the country this week and has become another flashpoint in the movement to end police brutality against Black people.

    Like police unions around the country, Kenosha’s Professional Police Association has a history of defending officers who use deadly force. In 2015, after Officer Pablo Torres shot two people over the course of 10 days, the Kenosha union even erected a tone-deaf billboard of the officer smiling in his uniform, thanking people in the city for their support. In Blake’s case, Matthews, the union’s attorney, said that officers were called to the scene because of a complaint that Blake was allegedly trying to steal someone’s keys and car. The officers, he added, knew that Blake had an open warrant for felony sexual assault, though he hasn’t been convicted. Again, that’s not a valid justification for trying to kill him. “Blake forcefully fought with the officers, including putting one of the officers in a headlock,” Matthews said. That’s not a valid justification, either. Also, it’s not uncommon for police officers to lie in their reports of shootings.

    “Based on the inability to gain compliance and control after using verbal, physical and less-lethal means, the officers drew their firearms,” Matthews concluded. “Mr. Blake continued to ignore the officers’ commands, even with the threat of lethal force now present.”

    We know this playbook well by now. After police shootings, it’s all too typical for officers to try to smear the victim by pointing to an alleged criminal history or coming up with reasons why officers feared for their safety. The laws are often written to make it easy for prosecutors to listen to the cops’ side of the story. But ultimately the cops’ argument is straightforward. Matthews’ final bullet point all but says it: Blake did not cooperate, and thus deserved to die.

  • The Man Who Grieves for Kenosha With His Violins and Violas

    The Black String Triage Ensemble plays outside in AugustCourtesy of Dayvin Hallmon

    Whenever there’s a shooting, Dayvin Hallmon turns to his violas and violins. He’s the founder of the Black String Triage Ensemble, an all-volunteer Black and Latinx orchestra in Milwaukee that plays music at crime scenes to help the community grieve and heal. Before creating the ensemble in 2019, he lived in Kenosha, first as a college student and then as an elected government official for a decade starting at age 23. On Monday night, Hallmon, 35, drove from Milwaukee back to Kenosha with his ensemble as hundreds of people took to the streets to protest the shooting of Jacob Blake by a police officer. Tear gas soon surrounded their makeshift stage as they tried to play their instruments. A couple of days later, I talked to Hallmon about his troubling experiences with the police in Kenosha, and how he was processing the news of the shooting:

    The person I affectionately call my twin flame told me about it. She sent me a text message on Sunday. I was in my apartment, talking to my pianist, and I looked at my phone and I’m like, Whaaat? I said, “Send me the video link, send me the video link,” and my twin flame sent me the video link, and so I watched it, and it was just straight-up murder. And I looked at the pianist and I said, “Kenosha is gonna burn to the ground.”

    I grew up in Racine, but I lived for a while in Kenosha. In 2003, when I was beginning college, I had just come out of the closet to my mother. My mother, a Christian woman, at the time was extraordinarily homophobic, and she kicked me out of her house. I had just started a job at Kmart, and I went to work, but I hadn’t even gotten my first paycheck, I didn’t have any money, so at lunch when I had nothing to eat I just got the violin out of the car and played it. I ended up in Kenosha because a friend of mine there took me in. I just never had enough money to leave.

    My stepfather was a doctor. I come from an upper-middle-class family, and we were not taught to be afraid of law enforcement. We were taught to be aware and respectful, but fear was never a component. As a boy, my baseball coach was a white man, Officer Garrett, and my team was called the Mount Pleasant Police Department Enforcers. But in college in Kenosha, I was pulled over, if not every week, every two weeks. When I tell people that Kenosha broke me, this is what I’m talking about. It was a radical shift from what I had known and what I was accustomed to. Awareness is one thing; fear is altogether different.

    After college, I ended up on the Kenosha County Board representing a city district. Around 2010, I was coming home from a haircut, and I saw a police squad, and the hood on the dash was up. It seemed strange—the station was nearby, was the engine overheating? Then I saw on the other side of the hood was a Black man who was being illegally searched. They were using the hood of the squad to block the dash cam. Another time, I remember walking to church down 56th Street, right past the elementary school, full almost entirely of Black and brown kids, and there were law enforcement with big guns and riot gear, charging down the sidewalk in the afternoon. And they charged directly into a house I had just walked past, with the school across the street. And the babies are getting ready to be let out, and anything could go down when you charge into the house, and nobody told the teachers to keep the babies inside. It’s something that would never, ever happen in an upper-middle-class white neighborhood.

    One day I came home from work, and a police squad rolled up, two white officers, and they say, “Someone’s looking for you.” I said, “There’s nobody looking for me,” and “Listen, I live right here, I’m not going anywhere, but I just got off work, I’m tired, I’d like to go lie down.” And one of the officers says, “Stay where you are.” So they had me outside my apartment for probably a good hour. I just stand there, just as cool and just as emotionless as I can be. And there was no one looking for me. And I got no explanation as to why I was detained. When I told folks on the county board, someone said, “Well, did you tell them you’re a county supervisor?” I said, “Should I have had to?”

    I felt like there was no progress that could be made. There were far too many people that were just comfortable. I said, well, I’m a musician, not a politician. I really want to go focus on music. And Kenosha had this thing called Keyed Up Kenosha, organized by the downtown business association, where they had artists paint pianos, and they plopped them in areas of downtown Kenosha. People could just walk up and play. And I was walking through, and I thought, “Well, my constituents in Uptown”—which is considered one of the ‘hoods—”they need music. The people who live in my neighborhoods need this and don’t have access to it.” And so there was this question that just got dropped in my spirit: What would happen if after a shooting, a bunch of string players showed up who were Black and Latinx and they played a concert that wasn’t Bach, wasn’t Beethoven, wasn’t Mozart?

    Now I’m the founding music director of the Black String Triage Ensemble, a group of Black and Latinx string players—violin, viola, cello, upright bass. They respond to shootings and police brutality, in the immediate aftermath of those events, to come to the scene, and to play a 30- to 40-minute concert based off the five stages of grief, with the sixth stage of faith thrown in at the end. Because if we don’t believe it’s going to get better as human beings, we don’t move forward. The music they play is all Black and Latinx composers—spirituals, jazz, blues, soul, gospel, and classical. It’s not designed for people who have close relationships with the victim, because that is a much longer trajectory in terms of healing. But it’s for everybody else who, maybe you live down the street, or you frequent the store on the corner, or you’re coming out of church next door to where this went down. For everybody else in that space, the last thing they need on their minds is a shooting before they go to sleep. And so the work that we do is designed to help people grieve and have a sense of peace so they can move forward.

    We normally play in Milwaukee, but after hearing about Jacob Blake, I tried to make arrangements on Monday to go play in Kenosha. We have roughly 20 players. Some of these are mothers with kids, or teachers. Folks have jobs, so it’s very difficult to do this. So from the Triage, we had about five players, and I called in a few white allies from Legion of the Soul, which was formed because there were all these people who wanted to do string vigils for Elijah McClain. In the car, it was quiet. There would be a curfew at eight o’clock and our performance was scheduled for 7:30. Were they gonna start shooting after the curfew? Were they gonna open fire?  

    When we walked up to Civic Center Park, it was just a sea of Black and brown people like I’ve never seen in Kenosha before. And they were young, in their 20s and teens. There was a van that had a speaker system, and somebody was playing James Brown’s “The Payback.” And it wasn’t until we started pulling out instruments that I started to see some confused looks on people’s faces. I went over to the van that was blasting the music, and it was a few Black men, and they saw me with the viola and I made the hand gesture for volume, where you turn the knob down. And I said, “We play only Black and Latinx music.” The brother nodded, and he turned off the music entirely. They needed to know that we weren’t going to play Beethoven and Mozart. Otherwise, you don’t have any purpose of being there.

    I could see as we were setting up, that more people started to gather in front of the courthouse and started chanting at law enforcement. And I looked at the musicians and I said, “Start playing now.” Our goal was to use the music to stave off the violence as long as possible, while not getting swept up in it and becoming victims of it. I said, “Any silence that you give this space is not good. Just keep playing.” I was playing too because there weren’t enough people for me to conduct yet.

    Then other players showed up, and I swapped the viola for the baton and started conducting. And as I was conducting, I could see the young Black and brown people taking water bottles and hurling them at the sheriff’s deputies in riot gear. And I look over to the right, and I saw two white men with tattoos. They’re not hanging out with anybody Black or brown, and their energy stood out like a sore thumb. And my brain said, “The white supremacists are here.” As that’s going on, there’s a guy in a red shirt, a Black man, standing in front of the line of officers, and he starts chanting and he’s getting everybody amped up, and I’m like, “Just keep playing, just keep playing.”

    It went from water bottles to somebody having a slingshot, shooting stuff over the trees, over our heads toward law enforcement And then I heard a sound; it had to be a smoke bomb. And then tear gas started to drift in our direction, and we were flushing our eyes with bottled water that my mother had brought to us—she lives in Kenosha now. My 75-year-old bass player said, “Brother Dayvin, I’ve never been tear-gased before.” And so we’re flushing out our eyes and we’re hiding behind trees, because we heard something like gunshots, and we had heard somebody say, “They’ve got rubber bullets.” So we’re trying to protect the instruments.

    It was unlike anything we’ve ever done before. Once the National Guard, the sheriff’s department, and armored vehicles came out, it was like, “Okay, this is going to be all-out war. We’ve got to go.” And we packed up the stuff, we went to the cars, everybody said goodnight. And you know, we all hugged each other and said, “Let’s make sure we all check in,” and everybody drove off, and when I got home, I got a text message from my friend: Two buildings away from the place where we parked, the building was completely engulfed in flames.

    Since then, I haven’t really been able to eat. I haven’t really been able to sleep. I haven’t really been able to think clearly. What bothers me is two things. I need an explanation as to why my government that I used to serve in is making all the wrong decisions. I don’t think they’ve publicly issued an apology to people of color in Kenosha for the pain that this causes. My mother called me, she said they’re not even mentioning it. I said, “Because if they did, they’d have to admit that they’ve been harboring white supremacists in their community, and that the mayor knew about it and the county executives knew about it, and nobody would do anything.” It was routine. People fly the stars and bars of the Confederate flag off their pickup trucks and race. They go back and forth, up and down 60th Street in the middle of Black and brown people. That’s racial intimidation. And when I asked [a county official] about it, you know, she just said, “Oh, Dayvin, it’s everywhere.” 

    No, it’s not. What is it about you, Kenosha, that these people feel comfortable here? What is it that you all don’t want to tell me? Why is it that your Black county board colleague during the meeting was begging and pleading with you, because he saw white supremacists running around the city and throughout his district, because he saw what the police were doing to his constituents and told you…why did nobody take up that mantle and fight? Why didn’t you fix this?

    I have felt like I should cry about all of this. And I just haven’t been able to. I tried so hard. I did everything I possibly could. And no one gave a damn. I just don’t understand why.

    This interview has been condensed and lightly edited. The Kenosha Police Department did not respond to a request for comment.

  • Thousands March on Washington to Demand an End to Police Brutality and Racism

    Susan Walsh/AP

    On the 57th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom—and five days after police in Kenosha, Wisconsin, shot Jacob Blake four times in the back—thousands of people converged on the National Mall to demand police reform, voting rights expansion, and racial equality.

    Mother Jones’ Matt Cohen is reporting live from the march, formally titled “Get Your Knee Off Our Necks.” Follow along below for updates.

    Yolanda Renee King, the 12-year-old granddaughter of Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King, issued a poignant call to combat police brutality, climate change, and poverty. “My generation has already taken to the streets—peacefully and with masks, and socially distanced—to protest racism,” she said. “I want to ask the young people here to join me in pledging that we have only just begun to fight, and that we will be the generation that moves from ‘me’ to ‘we.’”

    Martin Luther King III drew a parallel between Jim Crow–era voter suppression and President Trump’s attempts to sabotage the United States Postal Service amid a pandemic that has disproportionately affected Black communities and made it dangerous to cast ballots in person. “We shouldn’t have to risk our lives to cast our votes,” he said. “We need to be able to do what President Trump does: vote safely by mail.”

    Fifty-seven years after his father’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech, King called attention to continued police killings of Black Americans like George Floyd and Elijah McClain. “There’s a knee upon the neck of democracy,” he said, “and our nation can only live so long without the oxygen of freedom.”

    Philonise Floyd, still mourning the loss of his brother George, issued an emotional tribute to victims of police violence. “Right now, Jacob Blake—it’s hard just to talk right now—shot seven times, man, with his kids,” he said through tears. “That’s painful.”

  • NBA Players End Strike

    Pool/Getty

    Well, it’s over. Multiple reports this morning from inside the Orlando “bubble” say that NBA players have decided to end their wildcat strike. It began on Wednesday when the Milwaukee Bucks refused to play the Orlando Magic to protest the shooting of Jacob Blake by Kenosha, Wisconsin, police. And now it ends with a “discussion” that will “include plans of action moving forward on social justice issues.”

    That’s a bit of public relations pablum relayed by ESPN’s head of SOURCES, Adrian Wojnarowski, that at minimum suggests Wednesday’s fervor had worn off.

    In a few hours last night, the spirit of the NBA strike spread to the WNBA, to baseball, to soccer and tennis and even to one prominent NBA studio analyst. Even as a one-night wildcat strike, the walk-out was monumental. Within the sports context, it immediately reoriented athletes’ understanding of their labor power. There is an idea, the residue of labor’s rollback over the past half century, that a strike has to be done exclusively for direct changes in conditions at your workplace. An exasperated (anonymous!) owner in ESPN’s article on the 24 hours of the strike certainly thinks so: 

    “What is it they think the league can do?” one owner wondered. “We have been fully supportive.”

    (As Spike Friedman points out, owners aren’t exactly passive actors here. Steve Ballmer, owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, funds both this LAPD initiative and the academic study used to justify it.)

    Not all strikes are about the conditions of the workplace being struck. Not all of them are about wages, time off, benefits. There is an ongoing Strike for Black Lives across industries; it includes fast-food workers, Uber drivers, and janitors. The grievances include more than just one workplace’s problems.

    At the time of his assassination in 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was in Memphis leading a sanitation workers’ strike. During a rally, King delivered his now-famous “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech to a crowd of more than just the garbage workers. “Be concerned about your brother,” he implored. “You may not be on strike, but either we go up together or we go down together. Let us develop a kind of dangerous unselfishness.”

    He proposed boycotts of Coca-Cola, Wonder Bread, Sealtest milk. The point was to create crossflows of pressure, in solidarity. “As Jesse Jackson has said, up to now only the garbage men have been feeling pain,” King said. “Now we must kind of redistribute that pain.”

    A night without basketball is hardly a full redistribution. One wonders what kind of strike could be.

  • Tucker Carlson Says Teen Charged With Killing Kenosha Protesters Did What “No One Else” Would

    Fox News’ Tucker Carlson defended the actions of the white teenager charged with killing two protesters in Kenosha, Wisconsin, stating Wednesday that the armed vigilante acted to “maintain order when no one else would.” 

    “Those in charge, from the governor on down, refused to enforce the law,” Carlson told viewers of “Tucker Carlson Tonight,” amid reports that the suspect had a history of idolizing police and supported Donald Trump. “They’ve stood back and watched Kenosha burn. Are we really surprised that looting and arson accelerated to murder?”

    He added, “How shocked are we that 17-year-olds with rifles decided they had to maintain order when no one else would?”

    For months, conservatives of all stripes—from the president to senators in the opinion pages of the New York Times—have called for “law and order” forces to shut down the racial justice protests that have continued in the wake of George Floyd’s killing in May. Those calls continued this week as protests broke out in response to yet another police shooting of a Black man, this time Jacob Blake, whom police shot multiple times in front of his young sons on Sunday as Blake attempted to enter a car.

    As my colleague Nathalie Baptiste writes, “law and order” isn’t meant for everyone:

    As this era of pervasive corruption, state-sanctioned violence, and a pandemic that’s killed nearly 180,000 people makes abundantly clear, the harshest punishments for violating “law and order” are only doled out to certain people in certain places. When Trump and other right-wingers say they want “law and order,” they’re really sending a signal—less a dogwhistle than a bullhorn—to the other people guided by white supremacy: Break any law you want to maintain the current order. 

    So in some ways, Carlson is correct: Many of us aren’t shocked. Those who have watched a president relentlessly promote violence against protesters while sending federal agents to crack down on peaceful demonstrations predicted that such incitement could motivate armed vigilante groups to take action. For Carlson and his ilk, 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse, who allegedly used a semi-automatic weapon to shoot three protesters, two fatally, delivered the “law and order” they’ve been clamoring for. 

  • NBA Players Are Staging a Wildcat Strike

    Ashley Landis/AP

    The players of the Milwaukee Bucks, an NBA team headquartered only an hour’s drive from Kenosha, Wisconsin, staged what by all rights was a strike today over the shooting of Jacob Blake by Kenosha police. The players of five other teams soon joined them, meaning that all three of tonight’s playoff games had to be postponed. ESPN and others have called it a boycott, but that’s not right. Workers came together to withdraw their labor power. It’s a strike.

    Specifically, it’s a wildcat strike: a work stoppage without union approval. This was something new in America, or something old in newer form—a radical expression of solidarity among predominantly Black workers that seemed to spread by the minute beyond their workplace.

    In Major League Baseball, the Milwaukee Brewers and the Cincinnati Reds—the players, that is—were canceling their game. Kenny Smith, a studio analyst on TNT and former NBA player, walked off the set of the NBA on TNT in solidarity with the players:

    On NBA TV, Isiah Thomas was delivering a seminar on the double consciousness and the social construction of race. Sam Mitchell spoke warmly of solidarity, among other things. WNBA players, who have been assertive and unflinching in their activism since the killing of George Floyd, pushed the league to postpone three games (some walked into the arena with Blake’s name on their shirts). Major League Soccer players postponed their games. Naomi Osaka pulled out of a tennis match. At some point, the Bucks players got on the phone with political power players in Wisconsin, demanding something be done.

    Dismiss this at your peril as the indulgence of well-compensated cultural figures. A labor action taken by a handful of basketball players spread quickly in various forms across the culture. It is sure to spread still farther. By stopping play—something several players pushed for as the NBA’s “bubble” was being put together in Orlando—all attention returns to the streets. There have been times, as scholars have noted, that sports were used along with other entertainment baubles to quell uprisings. But not today.

    Update: The Lakers and Clippers joined the strike, according to reports. 

  • What Conservatives Really Mean When They Call for Law and Order

    David Goldman/AP

    On Sunday, August 23, Kenosha, Wisconsin, police officers shot Jacob Blake several times in the back as he was climbing into his car where his three sons waited for him. According to news reports, the 29-year-old Black man had been trying to break up a fight between two women before the cops shot him. Blake survived but, as of Wednesday, he is partially paralyzed.

    In response to the violence wrought by law enforcement, that night protesters took to the streets in Kenosha and protests continued over the next few days. Police officers fired tear gas and rubber bullets and protesters shot off fireworks and set fire to police cars and other property. Then on Tuesday, a group of white armed vigilantes shot three protesters, killing two. It should go without saying that their actions were illegal. Sadly, it probably also goes without saying that they were met with less police violence than Blake faced for turning his back on some officers. 

    Since racial justice protests erupted in the wake of the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May, the Trump administration, its allies and supporters have tempted to quash the sometimes-peaceful-sometimes-not protests by the repeated demands for what they refer to as “law and order.” (Or, for Trump, “LAW and ORDER!”)

    When anti-racist protesters demand equality and justice, Trump justifies the use of overwhelming police and paramilitary force as necessary to reinstate “law and order” to shut them down. And yet, when white so-called militia members inflict violence on the protesters—or even act on their own in response to a perceived grievance—suddenly “law and order” no longer applies. For instance, when mostly white people defied coronavirus restrictions and gathered in crowds in public to protests those very restrictions, Trump supported their efforts.

    After a video of Blake being shot in the back seven times by a yet-to-be-identified police officer went viral, the usual drumbeat began. If Blake had only followed orders and immediately complied with police demands, then he wouldn’t have been shot in front of his children. The organizing principle seems to be that there are laws and a social order to adhere to, and if you dare violate either by defying a police officer’s orders or some other social rule, you may have to pay with your life. That is, if you’re a person of color. For armed and aggrieved white men and occasionally women, apparently, a different set of rules apply.

    If Blake’s attempt to intervene in a neighborhood conflict took the police by surprise, they should have been well-prepared for the appearance of armed vigilantes who had been in Kenosha all day on Tuesday. One man showed up after a call was put out on Facebook to “protect” the city. “Three thousand of us are armed and ready,” another man told the Washington Post. Some came from different states and cities (outside agitators, if you will). Police were aware that armed civilians, who were self-appointed law enforcement representatives, had come to town and were hanging around with their assault weapons until 11:45 p.m. when they shot and killed two protesters and injured a third. The police have identified at least one perpetrator as 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse, who was from 20 miles away in Illinois. He was not arrested until the next day, after he managed to make it back home.

    What version of a commitment to “law and order” allows for Blake to be shot in the back by police for the crime of walking away from law enforcement officials but reacts this slowly to armed vigilantes organizing to use protesters to realize their race-war fantasies?

    Even after Rittenhouse was arrested and charged with homicide, conservatives, like Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) were still harping on property damage and partisan politics as they referred to the shooting of an unarmed man.

    At a press conference in Kenosha, the police implied that protesters were at fault for violating curfew.

    Kenosha is hardly an exception. Shots may not have been fired in the Michigan statehouse earlier this spring when armed “lockdown protesters” gathered to decry coronavirus restrictions but the threat of violence was unmistakable. Trump’s response? 

    Then, earlier this week, an unmasked crowd shattered the glass of a government office building to get into a state legislative hearing on public health restrictions in Boise, Idaho. Because of the coronavirus, the public hearing had limited seating. Some members of the crowd were armed with guns. They shoved past state troopers to get into the hearing and later defaced social distancing signs. A Democratic lawmaker who didn’t want to put her health in jeopardy by participating in a crowded hearing said the crowd was hostile to her.

    Afterwards, Idaho State Police made no arrests. Why? The next day, Lynn Hightower, a state police spokesperson explained the state troopers were unable to make any arrests “on the on the spot without elevating the potential for violence.” 

    Because the Idaho protesters were the right kind—white and conservative—the police exercised restraint in the face of violence because it was not worth the risk to protesters’ safety. Where would Blake be right now if Kenosha officers also believed risking his life wasn’t worth it? 

    That question is unlikely to ever be raised, given that the guy with the biggest megaphone yelling about “LAW and ORDER” is President Donald Trump, who has defined his administration and his re-election campaign on his own wild and inaccurate assessments of what constitutes “LAW” and “ORDER”—alone and together.  He starts at the top, trafficking in bogus falsehoods that leading Democrats—Barack Obama, Joe Biden, and Hillary Clinton—are criminals who take every opportunity to break the law. He’s responded to racial justice protests by gassing demonstrators in front of the White House and sending federal troops into American cities. He’s cheered on “lockdown protesters” who defy public health orders. Meanwhile, his entire administration has been one ethical violation after another. Many of his closest advisers—Stephen Bannon, Paul Manafort, Roger Stone, and Michael Cohen, just to name a few—have been either charged or  convicted of crimes. And while Kenosha was reckoning with yet another vile police shooting, team Trump has been repeatedly violating federal ethics law live on television as they stage the Republican National Convention this week. 

    Throughout history, we have seen how what is “law and order” for the dominant culture doesn’t apply to everyone. But as this era of pervasive corruption, state-sanctioned violence, and a pandemic that’s killed nearly 180,000 people makes abundantly clear, the harshest punishments for violating “law and order” are only doled out to certain people in certain places. When Trump and other right-wingers say they want “law and order,” they’re really sending a signal—less a dogwhistle than a bullhorn—to the other people guided by white supremacy: Break any law you want to maintain the current order. 

  • It’s Impossible for Victims of Police Violence to Get Compensation

    A memorial to Sean Monterrosa, George Floyd, and other victims of police violence is seen in Oakland, California, on June 8 ane Tyska/Digital First Media/East Bay Times via Getty Images

    In 2009, shortly after police officers shot and killed her 16-year-old brother in San Pablo, California, Geoffrea Morris drove to a cemetery to look for a plot of land. On top of everything else, she was stressed about money: Burial and funeral expenses would cost tens of thousands of dollars, and she was strapped for cash after graduating from social work school. A man who worked at the cemetery asked whether her brother had been the victim of a violent crime—a designation that would allow him to give her a discount. She started to cry.

    “They’re not seeing him as a victim,” she recalls telling him.

    In California and many other states, crime victims and their family members can apply to the government to help pay for funeral costs, counseling, medical fees, or other crime-related expenses. But there’s a significant catch: Across the country, victims of police violence don’t qualify. Police departments won’t issue them reports certifying their victimhood, documentation that’s required by most states’ victim compensation boards. Plus, no state’s board will provide compensation to anyone whom officers suspected of being involved in a crime when they were injured or killed, which is often the case for people harmed by police. Morris’ brother, Leonard Bradley Jr., had been suspected of a carjacking when he was shot. Two officers chased him up a grassy hill to a fence, where they fired their weapons after he allegedly reached for his waist. He was unarmed. “Once the police is involved in a shooting, especially like in my brother’s case, you’re just seen as the perp, and there are no services for the family,” says Morris.

    Just recently, though, it looked as if Morris might get some relief. The question of compensation for victims of police violence became an issue earlier this summer amid an urgent and sweeping debate about police reform following George Floyd’s killing by a police officer in Minneapolis. Morris, along with other victims’ families and criminal justice activists, hoped California would be the first state to overhaul the status quo with a bill that would have allowed victims of police violence and their family members to qualify for damages from a victim compensation board. But just last week, their hopes were dashed, as the proposal died in a Senate committee. “I’m devastated,” Morris told me upon hearing the news of the failed legislation.

    “There’s nothing out here to help us families,” adds Michelle Monterrosa, 24, whose brother Sean Monterrosa, 22, was killed by a Vallejo police officer in June outside a Walgreens. The officer, responding to reports of looting during the protests sparked by Floyd’s death, fired five rounds through the window of an unmarked pickup truck at Sean, who had been kneeling on the ground outside the store; the officer said he mistook the hammer in Sean’s pocket for a gun.

    After Sean died, the Monterrosas faced about $100,000 in funeral and burial expenses, far beyond what they could afford. The family lives together in a one-bedroom home in San Francisco, and Sean, a carpenter, had contributed a sizeable portion of their income. His mom works seven days a week as a caregiver for an elderly woman, and his dad runs a cafe. After his death, Michelle postponed a semester of school to handle the phone calls from journalists and work on police reform advocacy, and her sister Ashley, 20, quit her retail job to do the same. They both lobbied for the bill to make families like theirs eligible for compensation.

    Under the proposed legislation, California’s victim compensation board would no longer have required people to file a police report to receive funds. Instead, families and survivors of police violence could have submitted to the board a note from a doctor or social worker certifying that the incident occurred. Crucially, the legislation stipulated they would still be eligible for funding even if their loved one was suspected of a crime. The bill, a version of which had passed the Assembly, was “California’s opportunity to demonstrate that we value the lives and experiences of all victims, and particularly Black and brown victims of police violence,” Assembly member Tim Grayson, one of the co-authors, said in early August. “Victims and their families should not be forced to turn to GoFundMe accounts to cover funeral, burial, and medical expenses,” added San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin, who supported the proposal.

    “Everybody should be able to lay their family properly to rest,” says Morris. Whether the courts determine a police shooting was justified or not, she says, “the system took your loved one away—their grief is caused by government. The government should be held to a higher standard, even when it’s warranted, to support families of police violence.”

    To pay for her brother’s funeral, Morris had to dig into her savings; she also asked friends and neighbors for donations. But there were other costs. The family still couldn’t afford therapy for her and some of her siblings, which would have been helpful not just immediately after the shooting, but for the months and years of ongoing trauma—like when their pro bono attorney dropped their wrongful death case a year later. And it was exhausting dealing with all the press inquiries. “You can’t even grieve because you’re on the news every second,” she says.

    This is just one reason why family members and advocacy groups also want lawmakers to pass additional legislation that would allow more victims of violent crime, along with their family members, to take time off work or break their leases. Right now, these benefits are only afforded to survivors of sexual assault, human trafficking, and domestic violence. “Most of the statutes on record for crime victims in California are centered around the experiences of only certain types of crime victims,” says Tinisch Hollins, who leads the state chapter of Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice, a nonprofit that co-sponsored the compensation bill. “A lot of the advocacy has been led by organizations that are led by white women, people who do not reflect the voices of people in communities who experience crime and violence on a more consistent basis,” including gun violence and excessive police force.

    California state lawmakers, currently in the middle of a pandemic-shortened legislative session, are deciding the fate of more than a dozen police reform bills, including legislation that would ban the use of tear gas on crowds and require the state attorney general to review officer killings of unarmed people. Police reform advocates hope these proposals have better luck than the compensation bill, which died in the Senate appropriations committee on Thursday after the state’s victim compensation board warned lawmakers that broadening its payouts to police brutality victims could strain already-tight state budgets. (Some police chiefs also opposed the legislation.) The board estimated it could cost hundreds of millions of dollars each year to expand the pool of people making claimsa price tag based on the maximum payouts allowed, $70,000 per claim.

    But Hollins suggests that tab may be vastly overinflated. The board is a payer of last resort, which means it only pays for expenses that aren’t already covered by other means, like health insurance, workers compensation insurance, and automobile insurance. In the 2019 fiscal year, 50,000-plus crime victims and family members filed for compensation. Over that period, the board’s average payout to eligible people was just $1,200 per claim, and the total payout to all crime victims was about $62 million. A recent agency analysis estimates that broadening the law to include victims of police violence might add about 1,000 claims annually. “We’re not talking about millions of folks—we’re talking about a smaller number of severely disenfranchised survivors,” Hollins says. “Someone was harmed, and how do we remove all the barriers to make sure that harm is addressed and the sanction is not passed on to their family members?” The compensation board declined a request for comment.

    “We can defund the police to afford it,” counters Ashley Monterrosa. Without state help, she and her sister launched a GoFundMe for their brother’s funeral. But they feel the toll of his death in other ways. They say their mom is exhausted and has only gotten a few days off work to grieve. “It hits her hardest when she gets home at 4 p.m.—that’s when I see her cry every day,” says Michelle Monterrosa. “That’s around the time when Sean would come home from his job.” If the legislation had passed and they’d gotten compensation, maybe their parents could have stopped worrying about financial bills for long enough to try to process their son’s death. And maybe they could have paid for therapy; one of Ashley’s high school teachers is currently helping them crowd-source funds from the community so they can afford it.

    Sean had recently finished carpentry school and dreamed of building the family a house so they could move out of the one-bedroom home. The last text message he sent to his sisters was at 11:49 p.m. on June 1, asking them to sign a petition to get justice for George Floyd. The sisters replied right away to say they’d signed, and each sent him a heart emoji. He was killed less than an hour later.

  • Wisconsin Police Shot Jacob Blake in “Broad Daylight”

    Morry Gash/AP

    Protests erupted overnight in Kenosha, Wisconsin, after Jacob Blake, a Black man, was shot multiple times by at least one police officer as Blake attempted to enter a car. 

    A video of the encounter shows Blake walking away from two officers who have their guns drawn. As he opens the door of a gray SUV, an officer appears to grab Blake by the shirt before seven shots can be heard. Blake was transported to Froedtert Hospital in Milwaukee, where he remains in serious condition.

    Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers (D) confirmed the incident on Twitter overnight, adding that Blake had been shot in the back multiple times in “broad daylight.” Evers also condemned the use of excessive force by police. “While we do not have all of the details yet,” Evers said in a statement, “what we know for certain is that he is not the first Black man or person to have been shot or injured or mercilessly killed at the hands of individuals in law enforcement in our state or our country.” 

    The officers involved in the shooting have been placed on administrative leave, a statement from the state’s attorney general said. 

    It’s unclear exactly what events led up to the shooting, but the Kenosha Police Department said that officers had been responding to a reported domestic incident. Attorney Benjamin Crump, who is representing Blake’s family, said in a statement Monday that Blake had been helping deescalate a dispute when police drew their guns. Crump said that Blake’s three sons “were only a few feet away and witnessed police shoot their father.”

    As protests broke out, a city-wide curfew was imposed until 7 am.

  • Protesters Arrested in Tennessee Could Now Lose Their Right to Vote

    A man holds a flag upside down in front of the Tennessee State Capitol during a peaceful protest on Thursday, June 4. Mark Humphrey/AP

    On Friday, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee (R) signed a controversial bill that enhances penalties for certain crimes related to political protests and makes it a felony to illegally camp on state property. In Tennessee, a felony conviction automatically revokes an individual’s right to vote.

    The law also increases penalties for assaulting a first responder, obstructing emergency vehicles, and rioting.

    The bill follows two months of anti-racism protests in Nashville, during which activists have camped outside the state capitol building in an effort to secure a meeting with Lee. According to the Associated Press, state legislators claimed the law was needed after some protesters set fire to a courthouse in May. But civil libertarians were quick to criticize the measure as detrimental to free speech and criminal justice reform in a state that already uses felon disenfranchisement laws to bar large numbers of Black residents from voting.

    Tennessee is one of many states that makes it virtually impossible for former felons to regain their voting rights. Just over 420,000 Tennessee residents have been disenfranchised because of a past felony conviction. Since 1990, fewer than 12,000 of them have succeeded in regaining their voting rights, thanks to an onerous process that applies even to people who have completed sentences for low-level felonies. As a result, more than 20 percent of Black Tennesseans are unable to vote. 

    “We are very disappointed in Governor Lee’s decision to sign this bill, which chills free speech, undermines criminal justice reform and fails to address the very issues of racial justice and police violence raised by the protesters who are being targeted,” ACLU of Tennessee Executive Director Hedy Weinberg said in a statement reported by the AP. “While the governor often speaks about sentencing reform, this bill contradicts those words and wastes valuable taxpayer funds to severely criminalize dissent.”  

    Tennessee isn’t the first state to try to crack down harshly on protesters involved in the recent demonstrations over police killings and racial injustice. Utah made international news when prosecutors charged eight protesters with enhanced felonies that carried a life sentence after they were arrested for allegedly splashing red paint on a road or smashing windows at the Salt Lake County district attorney’s office during a July protest. That demonstration erupted after the district attorney declined to press charges against the police officers who fatally shot 22-year-old Bernardo Palacios-Carbajal. On Friday, a retired judge handling the case reduced the charges against the protesters to lesser offenses carrying prison sentences of 5 to 15 years.

  • Trump Threatens to Escalate Federal Invasion of Portland

    President Donald Trump speaks with reporters as he walks to Marine One outside the White House en route to Texas Wednesday.Alex Brandon/AP

    President Donald Trump said Wednesday that federal agents will “go in and clean it out” Portland, Oregon, if state and local officials don’t “secure their city soon”—a threat apparently prompted by Oregon’s governor announcing that federal forces would soon start withdrawing from the city.

    “You hear all sorts of reporting about us leaving,” Trump told reporters outside the White House. “We’re not leaving until they secure their city. We told the governor, we told the mayor: Secure your city. If they don’t secure their city soon, we have no choice. We’re gonna have to go in and clean it out. We’ll do it very easily. We’re all prepared to do it.”

    Trump also said that many “anarchists and agitators” have been arrested in Portland and that “it’s gonna be a long sentence.”

    Trump’s remarks came after Oregon Gov. Kate Brown (D) announced that following her repeated requests, “the federal government has agreed to a phased withdrawal of federal officers” who have been deployed in Portland for several weeks. Both Brown and Chad Wolf, the acting head of the Department of Homeland Security, said Wednesday that they had agreed on a plan that involved federal agents leaving Portland. But they made differing claims about the details.

    Brown said talks with Vice President Mike Pence and other administration officials this week led to an agreement that beginning Thursday, Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers “will leave downtown Portland, and shortly thereafter will begin going home.” 

    Officers from those two agencies, which Wolf oversees, have been deputized to help the Federal Protective Service, also part of DHS, protect the Hatfield Federal Courthouse in the city, which has been the target of vandalism and arson attempts amid ongoing protests that began two months ago after the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

    Federal agents, however, have been captured on video blocks away from the courthouse arresting protesters—allegedly without identifying themselves, in some cases. Those actions have drawn a national outcry and swelled the number of protesters participating in nightly demonstrations in the city from hundreds to thousands. Oregon’s attorney general and the American Civil Liberties Union have launched multiple lawsuits alleging federal officers are exceeding their constitutional authority in Portland. Inspectors general at DHS and the Justice Department have launched investigations into federal actions in the city.

    Brown and Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler say protests in the city are largely peaceful but that the feds are worsening the situation. “These federal officers have acted as an occupying force, refused accountability, and brought violence and strife to our community,” Brown said Wednesday. 

    The federal agents, decked out in military fatigues, have by almost all accounts intensified the situation in the city. Many demonstrators say they took to the streets in Portland to protest the federal presence there. Some people have reportedly thrown fireworks, bottles, and other objects at officers. “A number of federal officers have been injured, including one severely burned by a mortar-style firework and three who have suffered serious eye injuries and may be permanently blind,” Attorney General Bill Barr told the House Judiciary Committee Tuesday.

    Federal agents, for their part, have used tear gas, pepper spray, and “crowd-control munitions” on demonstrators. Earlier this month, a federal agent fired an impact munition that fractured a protester’s skull. 

    Brown said that Oregon state police will replace the CBP and ICE agents in assisting a “limited contingent of Federal Protective Service” officers, who are permanently stationed in the city and will remain. It’s not clear exactly how many federal agents are currently involved. The Oregonian reported Wednesday that 114 officers from CBP and the US Marshals Service have been deployed around the courthouse. Brown did not say if the Marshals, who are part of the Justice Department, will also leave Portland.

    Wolf confirmed in a statement Wednesday that the feds had reached an agreement with Brown on “a joint plan to end the violent activity in Portland” that included state police replacing DHS personnel in local law enforcement activity.

    But Wolf, who has struck a confrontational stance toward elected officials in Portland, claimed DHS agents would only leave once “the violent activity toward our federal facilities ends. We are not removing any law enforcement while our facilities and law enforcement remain under attack.”

    Trump went even further. “They either clean out their city and do it right, or we’re gonna have to do it for them,” he told reporters on Wednesday.

    Trump’s reelection campaign has touted his deployment of federal officers to various US cities, a bet that his supposed crackdown on cities he falsely depicts as lawless will play well politically. On Wednesday even as feds agreed to pull back in Portland, the Justice Department announced an expansion of “Operation Legend”—an effort supposedly aimed at using federal agents to combat local violent crime—to cities in three swing states: Detroit, Milwaukee, and Cleveland. The DOJ had previously announced a “surge” of agents in Kansas City, Chicago, and Albuquerque to fight crime there.

    In his testimony Tuesday, Barr defended Operation Legend and the federal deployment to Portland. Asked if he had talked to the president about how the federal deployments might help Trump’s reelection campaign, Barr refused to answer.

  • The Park Police’s Account of Lafayette Square Attack Doesn’t Add Up

    Shawn Thew/CNP via ZUMA

    Many questions linger over what led to the events outside in the White House on June 1 in Lafayette Square, wherein US Park Police attacked peaceful protesters with tear gas and excessive force moments before Donald Trump strolled through the park for a photo op in front of a nearby church. The USPP has insisted that the reason for the crackdown wasn’t for Trump’s photo op, but instead to install a new perimeter fence. The agency has also maintained that the protesters weren’t peaceful, which necessitated the use of force and defensive weapons to clear the park. But during a House Natural Resources Committee hearing on the incident on Tuesday, both of these assertions were called into question by Democratic lawmakers and a National Guard whistleblower who testified that the USPP engaged in “an unprovoked escalation and excessive use of force.”

    According to Gregory Monahan, the acting chief of the USPP, the plan to clear out the park and install the new fence on June 1 had been discussed up to two days prior, and “there was 100 percent, zero, no correlation between our operation and the president’s visit to the church,” he said. Attorney General William Barr, who said he ordered the clearance of Lafayette Park in order for new fences to be installed, also said that the effort had no connection to Trump’s photo op. But Barr admitted in a concurrent House hearing on Tuesday that he actually did learn “sometime in the afternoon that the president might come out of the White House” and that he later heard that Trump also planned to visit the church. Minutes before the park was cleared, he was captured on camera by CNN talking with a USPP officer. As Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.) pointed out, something about the timeline of events that day doesn’t quite add up. 

    And while Monahan and Barr insist that the reason Lafayette Square was cleared about 30 minutes before the 7 p.m. curfew was because the fencing materials had just arrived, Adam DeMarco, the National Guard whistleblower, backed up earlier claims that law enforcement officials were told that the park would only be cleared of protesters after the curfew went into effect. DeMarco also testified that the fencing materials didn’t arrive until 9 p.m. 

    One piece of evidence that might be able to clear all this up, however, is conveniently not available. As the Washington Post reported earlier this month, the audio of USPP’s radio communications system was not recorded on June 1, which Rep. Debra Haaland (D-N.M.) said “would answer a lot of the questions that we and public have at this moment.” According to Monahan, the reason why the radio transmissions weren’t recorded on that day had to do with a radio technician who set up the system incorrectly when the agency switched from an analog system to a digital format in 2018. The new system, Monahan explained, had only been set up to record transmissions from the USPP’s main dispatch channel, and not its secondary administrative channel, which is the channel that was used on June 1 so that USPP officers could communicate with law enforcement from other agencies. Monahan said that the agency did not realize the error in the system until they tried to pull the audio from the day in question on June 10. 

    But beyond the technical inconsistencies that Monahan testified about, the biggest bombshell to come from Tuesday’s hearing was during DeMarco’s testimony, when he countered Monahan’s assertion that USPP exercised “tremendous restraint” in clearing Lafayette Square. “Tremendous restraint does not involve the use of defensive equipment as weapons,” DeMarco said, referencing the use of pepper balls, smoke canisters, and other chemical irritants that USPP used to clear the park. DeMarco testified that he and other Guardsmen did not observe any violent behavior by protesters—which Monahan insisted was happening to justify the use of force—and were “deeply disturbed” by the tactics used to clear the park. DeMarco, who spent five years on active duty, including a combat deployment in Iraq, said that had his unit in Iraq done what federal agents did to the peaceful protesters on June 1, it would have violated the Geneva Convention. 

  • The NBA Is Back But Players Aren’t Talking About Games: “‘Justice for Breonna Taylor’—That’s Going to Be My Answer for Everything”

    Agustin Paullier/AFP/Getty

    Since landing in Orlando as part of the NBA’s return to play, Philadelphia 76ers forward Tobias Harris has spoken to the media about precisely one thing: “Justice for Breonna Taylor.”

    During a July 20 press conference, he urged Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron to “arrest the cops and officers involved in Breonna Taylor’s death,” adding, “that is going to be my answer for every question.” Four days later, he confirmed that his postgame interviews—the kind most NBA players routinely go through—would be devoted to justice for Taylor. “Brett Hankison, Jonathan Mattingly, and Myles Cosgrove need to be held accountable, and we need justice for Breonna Taylor and I’ll continue to preach that message after every single game,” he said, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.

    Many NBA players participated in racial justice protests in recent weeks and have been adamant about using the return of the NBA season to keep a spotlight on Taylor’s death and police brutality against Black Americans. The NBA plastered “Black Lives Matter” on the game court in Walt Disney World in Orlando, where the professional basketball league is finishing its coronavirus-shortened season. The NBA also approved 29 statements, such as “Say Their Names” and “I Can’t Breathe,” for players to wear on their jerseys in Orlando once official games begin next week. 

    But the most powerful advocacy has come from players who have used their platform in interviews to keep the focus on Taylor. Marcus Smart of the Boston Celtics told reporters on Friday after a scrimmage, “Before we start, guys, my answer is just going to be ‘justice for Breonna Taylor’—that’s going to be my answer for everything.”

    The WNBA, meanwhile, started its season on Saturday and permitted players to wear Taylor’s name on their jerseys. The league also specifically devoted its opening day game between the New York Liberty and Seattle Storm to honoring Taylor and other victims of police brutality. Before the game, New York’s Layshia Clarendon and Seattle’s Breanna Stewart asked for a 26-second moment of silence in honor of Taylor, who was killed at age 26. Both players are members of the league’s new Social Justice Council, which is driving the league’s advocacy on “race, voting rights, LGBTQ+ advocacy, and gun control,” among other issues. 

    Taylor, an emergency room technician, was killed in March after police officers used a no-knock warrant to enter her Louisville apartment and exchanged fire with her boyfriend, who believed they were intruders. As my colleague Samantha Michaels wrote, “Research shows that Black and Latino people have long been disproportionately affected by these kinds of raids, and tens of thousands more will likely be targeted within the year.” 

    Even though officer Brett Hankison was fired and reprimanded for “wantonly and blindly” firing 10 shots into Taylor’s apartment, none of the three officers have been arrested for murder. “I can assure you at the end of our investigation, we will do what is right,” Cameron, Kentucky’s top law enforcement officer, told reporters in June. “We will find the truth.”

    Taylor’s death gained national attention during the protests following George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis and NBA players have been part of the pressure campaign to hold the Louisville police officers accountable. “As one of the leaders of this league, I want her family to know, and I want the state of Kentucky to know that we feel for her and we want justice,” LeBron James, the Los Angeles Lakers superstar, said Thursday after his team’s scrimmage with the Dallas Mavericks. “What’s right is right, and what’s wrong is wrong.”

    CNN reported that several NBA players have been in touch with Taylor’s mother, Tameka Palmer, and have “expressed their support.” 

    This piece has been updated.

  • In Tony McDade Case, a Florida Judge Just Ruled That On-Duty Cops Can’t Be Victims If They Kill Someone

    Protestors participated in a "unity walk" in Tallahassee in June. Don Juan Moore/Getty

    It has been two months and we still don’t know the name of the police officer who shot and killed Tony McDade in Tallahassee, Florida. The reason sounds ridiculous: The cop is claiming that in his encounter with McDade he was the victim and that, under a state law, his personal information should be protected.

    On Friday, a local judge ruled against that argument.

    In a lawsuit, the Florida Police Benevolent Association sought to keep the officer’s identity under wraps by offering him protections under the victims’ rights amendment to the state’s constitution. As a victim, they said, the law guaranteed him privacy, broadly defined. In this case, they argued that meant keeping confidential all identifying information about the officer, such as his name, prior disciplinary records, and body camera footage. But Leon County Judge Charles Dodson declared that the law, colloquially known as Marsy’s Law, “was not intended to apply to law enforcement officers when acting in their official capacity” because it could grant them “virtual anonymity” whenever they use force.

    The case exemplifies an increasingly popular tactic to conceal police brutality. Critics of Marsy’s Law, including Andrea Lyon, a Chicago defense attorney, say cops can use it to control the narrative and reframe the people they kill as the aggressors. As I wrote last month:

    Lyon told me that when police invoke Marsy’s Law, it tips the scales of justice even further to the disadvantage of a defendant. In her more-than-40-year career Lyon has defended hundreds of clients, including some who have survived police shootings, only to be charged with attempted murder of an officer. “It’s really quite common,” she said. When police claim victimhood, it makes it incredibly difficult for the defendant to claim self-defense. And without access to an officer’s personnel reports, it’s almost impossible to prove a pattern of brutality—it becomes a defendant’s word against law enforcement’s. And who do people usually believe?

    The city, media outlets, civil rights groups, LGBTQ advocates (McDade was a Black trans-masculine person), and, eventually Judge Dodson, agreed that classifying cops as victims sets a dangerous precedent. 

    “In the case at hand, Petitioner seeks to treat officers Doe 1 and Doe 2 as victims; however, the would-be accuseds are dead,” he wrote. “The officers do not seek protection from the would-be accused, instead they apparently seek protection from possible retribution for the on-duty actions from unknown persons in the community.” He continued that he could not interrupt a victims’ rights law “to shield police officers from public scrutiny of their official actions.”

    The police union has already appealed the ruling. Until that is exhausted, we still won’t know the officer’s identity.